A “pilot” plant for research on power chip, those that must resist high temperature changes and – in the future – will be used in electric cars, renewable plants, lasers and satellites. An investment of around 200 million euros, half with European funds, which should land in Catania, where there is already a microelectronics district around the multinational St plant. It is the plan that Italy will present in Brussels as part of of frontier chip projects, in partnership with Sweden, Finland and Poland. With excellent chances of being assigned the resources, considering that the chapter on power chips was added precisely at the request of Italy and the Ministry for Business, which guaranteed national resources and ensured the involvement of around ten international companies, as well as St. itself
In the global race for chips, Italy takes a step: the semiconductor design center opens in Pavia by Filippo Santelli 03 November 2023
The distribution of funds
We are within the scope of Chips Act europeo, the initiative with which Brussels seeks to keep pace with billions of investments by the United States and China in the strategic microelectronics sector. The pilot lines, whose objective is to test frontier technologies to bring them to market, are one of the few branches which, alongside state resources, provide for common funds, 1.67 billion euros for the first tender published yesterday. The other three chapters concern 2 nanometer chips, where a consortium led by the Belgian research center Imec should secure 700 million euros, the highly energy efficient 7 nanometer ones, on which France should collect 430 million, and the one on packaging advanced, where the consortium led by Fraunhofer German is in pole position for 320 million. Italy and its partners present a smaller project, around 180 million, but obtaining them would still be a victory considering that Brussels did not initially foresee a fourth chapter. European resources will then be doubled with i national and private funds: the Italian-led project would thus reach around 400 million, half of which would be directed to our country.
The power chips
Instead of traditional silicon, power (wide bandgap) chips use different materials such as silicon carbide, better performing at high temperatures and powers. A key technology for applications such as automotive, energy networks, lasers, aerospace. It is a sector in which, thanks to the ST plant in Catania, Italy has a competitive advantage. If the tender, which expires in March, is successful, it will take a few months to create the pilot line, which could become operational atbeginning of 2025. Private individuals will contribute 10% of the investment, with liquidity or by contributing machinery and human capital.
Thus Italy risks missing the train for the industry of the future by Filippo Santelli 02 October 2023
The Italian chip strategy
This center adds a piece to the Italian chip strategy that the government is struggling to carry forward – given that the other countries started earlier and with more resources. The others already defined are the tax credit for research and the center for semiconductor design – Chips.it Foundation – which will be built in Pavia to act as a bridge between research and industry and should also coordinate the activity of the pilot plant in Catania. The part that is still missing is the productive one, where Germany, France but also Spain have put billions on the table of state aid to attract the large multinationals in the sector to their territories. Although the 3.3 billion euro fund created by the Draghi government in 2022, after a long political-bureaucratic stalemate, should finally become operational in a few weeks, to provide non-repayable contributions to private companies that will invest in our country. The Ministry of Business, which will be on a mission to Japan in a few days, speaks of several open discussions, but no definitive agreement yet. How much investment Italy will actually be able to attract remains a question mark, as demonstrated the Intel affair, with its semiconductor packaging plant first promised and then fallen silent, although not yet officially cancelled. Rather than competing in the upward auction for superfactories, Italy is focusing on the niches in which it is strong, trying to expand them: a less ambitious but perhaps more realistic strategy.